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Bubba Wallace knew what he had to do coming into the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway — control what he could control. For the only driver above the playoff cutline who hadn’t clinched a spot, that meant staying focused and having a solid day on the track while hoping that there wasn’t a first-time winner if he didn’t win. 

All of those things happened. And moments after they did, the driver received congratulations from his boss, 23XI Racing co-owner Michael Jordan, and laughed in the face of his critics during a post-race interview. 

Bubba Wallace qualifies for playoffs

For weeks, Bubba Wallace found himself on the good side of the playoff cutline. Even after making back-to-back trips to road courses, which the driver readily admits aren’t his strong suit, the 29-year-old held firm in his playoff position. 

Coming into Daytona, a track he’s had success on in the past, including three runner-up finishes, Wallace understood the mission. In effect, don’t screw it up.

After a strong qualifying effort, the No. 23 car started fourth and stayed up near the front for most of the first stage. When the stage ended, he finished sixth and picked up several valuable points. 

But it was at the conclusion of Stage 2 where Wallace’s fortune truly changed when his closest playoff competitor, Ty Gibbs, got awkwardly pushed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell and tapped the right rear of Ryan Blaney, which took both cars hard into the wall and started “the big one” that involved 16 cars.  

Wallace took note in the final stage as he watched a number of drivers move to the front who hadn’t won a race and threatened to spoil his playoff bid, including Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola, and Alex Bowman. However, in the end, Brad Keselowski showed what kind of teammate and co-owner he is at RFK Racing, pushing Chris Buescher to the win, his third victory in the last five races.

Wallace was in.

Wallace laughs in face of his critics

Earning his first playoff berth, Wallace was understandably happy after the race when he visited with Fox’s Bob Pockrass, who asked the 23XI Racing driver about the emotion of the moment and what qualifying for the postseason said about his driving.

“All of those comments that people throw on your videos about Bubba Wallace making the playoffs, they’re wrong. I love it,” he said before breaking out in laughter. “I love it!” 

Congratulated by Michael Jordan


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Shortly after his media obligations ended, Wallace received congratulations from various people, including other drivers and both of his co-owners, including Michael Jordan.

When His Airness arrived in the gathering area on pit road, the two shook hands and then hugged.

“Way to go, kid,” Jordan said, pulling away and putting his large hand on the driver’s head. 

“Yes sir!” Wallace replied. 

In February 2021, before Wallace’s first-ever race with 23XI at the Daytona 500, MJ said in an interview when talking about his new driver that the reason they signed him is because they don’t “sign checks for losers.”

On Saturday at Daytona, the driver proved that he’s not only a loser, which he’d already confirmed by winning a couple of races, but he’s also no longer just an average driver, but a playoff driver. That’s a big step in improving the driver’s confidence, showing the progress of the race team, and quieting his oft-outspoken critics.

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